What's green, slimy, abundant at Halloween AND good for your health? Pumpkin seed oil!
October marks pumpkin harvesting season and by now you may have seen some scary 'Jack-o'-lanterns' lurking outside homes and shops (pictured is my husband's cracking effort last year!). In some countries though, pumpkins are solely grown for the precious red-green seed oil.
Obtained from cold pressed pumpkin seeds, this amazing oil is rich in nutrients including omega-6 and omega-9, vitamin E, zinc, antioxidants and phytosterols.
Currently being touted by health experts as the new coconut oil, pumpkin seed oil isn't a trendy new superfood but has been used to improve health and well-being around the world for hundreds of years.
Want to know how pumpkin seeds have been used as medicine and how the oil can improve your health AND your looks? Read on...
History of pumpkin seed oil
It's thought that pumpkins were originally cultivated by native Americans to use as food and medicine; they used pumpkin seeds to successfully eliminate parasites and to treat kidney problems. The oil has long been used in Austria and Slovenia to enhance health and beauty, with women religiously applying it to soothe chapped skin and to prevent the signs of ageing.
Benefits of pumpkin seed oil
Anti-inflammatory - Due to its high fatty acid profile, it is considered to reduce inflammation in the body and could help conditions including arthritis and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS).
Anti-parasitic - It turns out that Native Americans were correct in believing that pumpkin seeds could eliminate intestinal parasites, as cucurbitin, an amino acid found in pumpkin seeds, has demonstrated anti-parasitic properties.
Cholesterol lowering - the high content of phytosterols may contribute to lowering levels of LDL (low density lipoproteins, or 'bad' cholesterol) and increasing HDL (high density lipoproteins, or 'good' cholesterol).
Diuretic - studies show that pumpkin seed oil can improve the function of the bladder. Interestingly, it was used to prevent bed-wetting in children by native Americans as it would ensure that the children would go to sleep with an empty bladder.
Immune boosting - pumpkin seed oil is rich in the mineral zinc, which is known to improve the body's defences.
Prostate health - research has demonstrated that pumpkin seed oil is effective in reducing benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
Sedative - pumpkin seed contains high levels of tryptophan, converted by the body to serotonin and then melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Skin health - fatty acids work to maintain the skin's protective barrier, in order to retain moisture and repair rough, chapped skin, whilst high levels of vitamin E may reduce the appearance of fine lines, scarring, stretch marks and redness.
3 ways to use pumpkin seed oil at home
So this year once your pumpkin is carved, instead of discarding the seeds, roast them on a low setting or lightly fry in a little coconut oil, add cinnamon, sea salt or cayenne powder and treat yourself to a healthy Halloween snack!
Did you know there is a tiny orange-red fruit growing wild in the UK that has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties?
Said to contain twenty five times more vitamin C than an orange, as well as vitamins A, D and E, important minerals including magnesium and calcium and disease protecting phytochemicals, rosehips are currently ripe for the picking and free from a hedgerow near you.
Take gloves to protect against thorns and pick away from busy roads, remembering to leave some for our furry and feathered friends. Rosehips are full of hairy seeds that can irritate when digested; for this reason it's best not to consume them raw.
So what can you do with them? A cheap, easy way of supercharging your health in time for sniffle season is to make a delicious, immune-boosting syrup.
Rosehip syrup recipe
500g wild rosehips
Remove leaves and stalks and give the rosehips a thorough wash. Once clean, give them a good blitz in a food processor or blender (I used my trusty Nutri Bullet and added a little water), then pour the liquid into a stainless steel pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain the liquid through a muslin cloth and discard the pulp. Boil the liquid again, allow to cool and add the honey. Store in sterilised jars and keep refrigerated.
The syrup will resemble the appearance of tomato soup, with a sweet yet tart flavour. It can be taken by the spoonful, used as a cordial, drizzled onto pancakes, waffles and porridge and is said to make a great accompaniment to blue cheese.
If you are using the syrup medicinally, it is best to take small amounts throughout the day as vitamin C is water soluble and can't be stored by the body. It is worth bearing in mind that some of the nutrient content will be destroyed by the cooking process, nevertheless it is a fantastic free tonic that is definitely worth a try.
A similar recipe for rosehip syrup was given out by the Ministry of Food during WW2 as a way to boost vitamin C intake when imported fruit was scarce.
Rosehips can also be used to make jams, jellies and soups. It is a popular tradition in Scandinavian countries, with their folklore even suggesting that the Vikings fuelled their invasions on a diet of rosehips!
As well as supporting a healthy immune system, research has shown that rosehips may be beneficial for:
Caution: If you are on medication or being treated for a long-term health condition, it may be prudent to avoid use as drug interactions are possible due to its high vitamin C content.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding it may be wise to avoid this remedy as a precautionary measure, due to the lack of safety data available.
Discontinue use immediately if you experience itching, swelling of the tongue, skin rash, digestive disturbance or a change in breathing pattern.
Do let me know if you give it a go! My nearly two year old is currently getting stuck into our current batch - "more medicine mummy!"
After a burst of unseasonably sunny weather, autumn looks like it's well and truly upon us. It's only a matter of weeks before the clocks go back and winter arrives, along with its entourage of chilly weather, darker days and cold and flu bugs.
Making positive changes to your health and well-being now can stand you in good stead. So what can you do now to lift your spirits, strengthen your immune system and feel energised? Read on...
Become a soberhero
Want to look and feel better and support people with cancer at the same time? Join thousands of people up and down the country by giving up alcohol for one month and raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. There's still time; see www.gosober.org.uk for more information.
Pack it in for good
Make October the month you quit with the NHS and Public Health England's campaign Stoptober. It's been shown that giving up smoking for four weeks means that you are five times more likely to stay a non-smoker. Join comedians Al Murray and Rhod Gilbert by signing up at https://stoptober.smokefree.nhs.uk
Enjoy the great outdoors
It is arguably the best season to exercise outside; crisp, autumnal days were made for a walk in the woods or a cycle in a country park. Whilst you're out and about, take the opportunity to see what gifts nature has left in the hedgerows. Blackberries, elderberries and rosehips are bountiful at this time of year (keep your eyes peeled on a future blog post on how to make an immune boosting syrup from these berries!).
Warm your plate
There is a tendency to reach for stodgy comfort food once the skimpy summer wardrobe is safely packed away. It's natural to want something more substantial than a salad, however remember that we need the nutrients that fresh produce provides.
To aid digestion and build energy conserves for the winter months ahead, switch from cold, raw foods to warm soups, stews and baked fruit. Here are some simple meal ideas:
Instead of cold cereal in the morning, opt for a bowl of warm porridge made with rolled oats, quinoa or chia seeds. Add cinnamon and a drizzle of raw honey.
Still on salads? Give your digestion a helping hand by switching to a simple homemade soup using seasonal produce. Try roast tomato and red pepper, spicy sweet potato and butternut squash or curried kale and spinach. Roast the vegetables and steam the leaves before blitzing in a blender. Add plenty of herbs and spices; rosemary, oregano, garlic, ginger, thyme, turmeric and black pepper all boost immunity and aid digestion. Enjoy the soup with a few oat cakes or corn bread to give your gut a break from gluten-rich grains.
Embrace seasonal root vegetables such as carrots, celeriac and butternut squash - add to beef or lamb stews or as an accompaniment to seasonal game such as pheasant. For a hearty vegetarian option, see this recipe for a mouthwatering Moroccan stew
It's still important to keep hydrated, however it may seem chore to drink cold water. Remember that hot drinks including tea, soups and water-rich foods all count. If you're not a fan of fruit or herbal teas, Rooibos tea is worth a try as it's closer to black tea in taste and appearance, or spice up black tea with the following recipe for Masala Chai tea
Puddings can be tasty and good for you; try baking or poaching apples, pears and peaches or make an Autumn fruit crumble
Relax and recharge
Take some time out, even if you can only manage an hour a week, to do something just for you. Instead of automatically turning on the television once work is done or the kids have gone to bed, why not get caught up in a good fiction book instead? Or treat yourself to a complementary therapy treatment to balance mind, body and spirit.
Do you find yourself feeling a bit flat, lacking energy or succumbing to cold and flu as soon as summer packs its bags?
A few tweaks to your usual meal plan may improve digestion, increase circulation, boost immunity, raise energy levels and improve mood. How?
Adorning your plate with seasonal produce and adding flavoursome spices will top up your vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to supercharge your health in preparation for the cold winter months ahead.
Here are three of my favourite autumn recipes that are mouth-wateringly delicious and easy to make:
Moroccan sweet potato stew
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ras-al-hanout
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can chopped tomatoes
3 carrots, sliced
2 sweet potatoes, chopped into cubes
1 butternut squash, chopped into cubes
1/4 pint vegetable stock
Honey, to taste
Handful of raisins (optional)
In a casserole dish, sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add spices and stir for a few minutes before adding sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover for five minutes. Add the can of tomatoes and chickpeas and simmer on a low heat until vegetables are soft. Add raisins if desired and honey if you want a sweeter dish or a bit more cayenne if you like it spicy.
Masala chai tea
6 cardamom pods, sliced open
1 star anise
10 black pepper corns
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick snapped into small pieces
2 cups whole milk or alternative (almond works well)
1 and a half cups water
1 teabag or tablespoon loose leaf black tea such assam or Ceylon
Brown sugar, honey or agave nectar to sweeten
Add the milk and spices to a small saucepan, bring to the boil, reduce heat and add tea and water. Bring to the boil again and reduce heat. This can be done a few times to intensify the flavour; it depends on how patient you are! Strain then sweeten if desired.
Autumn fruit crumble
Bowl of blackberries
3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3 pears, peeled, cored and chopped
2 plums, seed removed and chopped
Organic rolled oats
Mixed nuts, crushed
Maple syrup/agave nectar/unrefined sugar
Place the fruit in a medium sized ovenproof dish and sprinkle with allspice. With your fingers, combine butter, oats, nuts and your choice of sweetener to form a crumble topping and add to the top of the fruit mixture. Bake in oven for 30 minutes at 190C. Serve with fresh custard or vanilla ice cream.
Complementary therapist and natural health expert. On a mission to sprinkle health and wellness wherever I go...